BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. — A recent study is shedding light on the long-term mental health impacts that the 2018 Camp Fire is having on survivors.
Researchers at the Neural Engineering And Translation Labs at UC San Diego surveyed 75 people with help from CSU Chico. The study included 27 people who were directly affected by the Camp Fire, meaning they suffered loss or other direct impacts. They also studied 21 people who were indirectly exposed, meaning they witnessed the fire but did not suffer direct loss, as well as 27 control individuals.
Using brain imaging technology, called electroencephalography, researchers found that people who were both directly and indirectly impacted showed weaker “interference processing.” That’s the ability to cope with unwanted distractions or thoughts. Researchers say interference processing is necessary in order to function day-to-day and process information. They hope data from the study can result in new intervention strategies following catastrophic wildfires.
I think people have started to do that kind of work, in terms of physical health; in terms of how smoke may affect lung function or pollution impact lung function. But, in terms of how the brain gets impacted, this is, I think, the first study to show that kind of impact,” says Jyoti Mishra, PhD, study author and director of the Neural Engineering and Translation Labs at UC San Diego.
Researchers say it's still too early to know how long these effects will last in survivors, but that the brain can be trained to improve focus and other cognitive functions.
“The fact that the brain is affected chronically is something to note,” says Dr. Mishra. “That is something we need to think about in terms of getting these communities back to renormalizing the situation or building interventions for them and what those interventions could target biologically.”
To report errors or issues with this article please email the editorial team.